I am reading an awesome book on Cognitive Sciences and how it applies to teaching students in the classroom: Schools for Thought – a Science of Learning in the Classroom by John Bruer. I will write more on this book later, but I wanted to focus on an idea I got from it to teach in the classroom. One chapter of the book relates to teaching science, and specifically, teaching Newtonian Physics… exactly what I’m teaching right now to my grade 11 physics class.
This lab is designed to investigate the motion of a pendulum, specifically its period. From some initial observations, the students are to collect reasonable data to determine the acceleration due to gravity.
Note: You will need a pendulum setup: a light string connected to a heavy weight on one side and a stationary object high above the floor on the other (like the ceiling), letting the pendulum swing back and forth. The string length should be adjustable.
Yesterday I gave a science workshop to my younger group of kids: 6 – 9 year olds. I am typically a high school teacher, but this school year I am trying a different thing: workshops for homeschooled kids. And yesterday was one of those workshops.
I have a really great group of 6 to 9 year olds. At first it was challenging to understand really how small these kids are, how little they know about the world, how easy it is to surprise them with the simplest science experiment. I taught kids, but never this young before. I had to revamp my whole way of thinking about the class, about the kids, about science!
There is a steady increase in environmental issues in the curriculum every year. The environment is important and we must take care of it, thus teaching about it to students that will one day take care of the world is a necessity.
But whenever I learned about it or taught it, I found it to be more of a “social studies” subject and not a science. There’s a lot of descriptions, definitions of concepts, discussions of alternatives, debates. It never felt like a real “science”, with numbers, predictions, experiments, etc. I know that this is not the case. I know that environmental sciences are very much scientifically based and hard core, with lots of experiments and empirical data supporting phenomena, but the way the curriculum has the “environment” presented wasn’t at all interesting to me thus far (since I’m one of those science geeks).
A while back I was in a situation where I had to teach evolution to some grade nine students. I am more of the physical science/math teacher, and biology is not my cup of tea.
In physics, there are also unproven “theories” that we follow. In fact, all of Newtonian physics is pretty much “false” and yet we teach it all the time as fundamental physics. Light is both a wave and a particle… how can that ever be possible? Either it can travel through objects (like a wave / energy) or it is stopped by objects (like a particle)? For some reason, the physical theories don’t affect people in the same emotional way as the theory of evolution. We have a way of dealing with the physics theories on a logic / thinking level. No religion is offended (although ~400 years ago, Copernicus’ theory of planetary motion around the sun was dissputed by the Catholic church). Nobody’s extreme beliefs come under fire with all these silly physics theories.
Recently I taught my son (grade 2) how to do subtraction of large numbers with borrowing. I am a high school math teacher, so I thought that teaching this subject would be a piece of cake. However, I didn’t realize that I would have to be this creative in order to actually get through to my son. Anyway, my method worked like a charm, so I’m posting it. It’s pretty basic, and I’m sure it has been widely used by good teachers (that really understand how to teach kids math), but in case you haven’t thought of this method, here it is.
Math can sometimes seem like a very dry subject… you can just have a pencil and paper to do it, and in order to become good at it, you need to do problem after problem: “Practice Makes Perfect” as they say. But as a math teacher, it is nice to have a bag of “math tricks” up your sleeve to show the actual beauty and interesting side of math.
The dragon of ignorance has three heads and three tails. However, you can slay it with the sword of knowledge by cutting off all its heads and tails. With one swipe of the sword you can cut off one head, two heads, one tail, or two tails.
But . . .
When you cut off one head, a new one grows in its place.
When you cut off one tail, two new tails replace it.
When you cut off two tails, one new head grows.
When you chop off two heads, nothing grows.
Help the world by slaying the dragon of ignorance.
1. Take an eight by eight grid (with 64 squares). 2. Fill it randomly with digits 1 through 8. 3. Now start at any number on the left most column. 4. Move that many spaces down your grid (going up to the top of the next column if you run out of space). 5. Whatever number you land on, take that many steps down the grid, moving to the top of the next column if you run out of space, and continue. 6. Continue this procedure, until you run out of room on the whole grid. 7. Mark the last spot you landed on. 8. Start again with a new number on the left most column of your grid. Redo the whole procedure. 9. Try again, starting with yet another number on the left most column of the grid. And again. And again. 10. What happened?
Keeping with the theme of building, my last workshop for the younger elementary students was about building structures of different materials. I first read the kids the classic tale of the Three Little Pigs. This is an amazing little story that can be used as a starting point for a Scientific Method / Building Lesson Plan.
After that we discussed the different materials that were used to build the three houses. I asked the kids to make a hypothesis whether the story is correct. Here are some questions we discussed:
Which house is really the best one? Why do you think so?
What is the manipulated variable in this story? What is the responding variable? What about the controlled variables?
How could we test out the hypothesis? How many times would we have to do the experiment to feel satisfied that the story is correct or incorrect?